By MATTHEW STEVENS
Mississippi State’s stifling defense held Arkansas Pine-Bluff to the lowest point total by an opponent in eight years in a dominating 74-31 victory.
The Lady Bulldogs (3-1), who rank first in scoring defense in the Southeastern Conference heading into Sunday, maintained its undefeated record at Humphrey Coliseum by keeping the Southwestern Conference opponent to just 18.8 percent shooting from the field and forced 26 turnovers.
Arkansas Pine Bluff’s 31 points was the least amount it has given up since a 2002 win against Central Florida when MSU held the Golden Knights to 30.
“Every win is great,” MSU head coach Sharon Fanning-Otis said. “We are getting better and getting more consistent. Anytime you hold an opponent under 20 percent shooting, you have played with great defensive pressure.”
MSU contained the Lions (0-4) leading scorer Jasmine Abrams, a local senior forward from Columbus, to only four points in front of many friends in Starkville where she made 2-of-14 from the field.
“I wanted more so accept the challenge and put up more points for my team but my shots just weren’t falling,” Abrams said. “If anything, this will be a learning experience for me and maybe it happened for a reason so I don’t get the big head too quick.”
Mississippi State’s veteran perimeter duo of Mary Kathryn Govero and Diamber Johnson led the home squad in scoring with a combined 40 points and 10 assists with only three combined turnovers.
The Pine Bluff defensive switch to a zone defense opened up Govero, a 5-foot-11 senior, to knock down 5-of-7 shots from beyond the arc.
“We have mismatches sometimes where two people end up guarding three so somebody is going to get a good look,” Govero said. “I just happened to be on the receiving end of that so I don’t mind if they play zone.”
State, who never trailed throughout the contest, used a 21-3 run to end the first half that essentially busted the blowout win wide open thanks to their ability to turn the tempo of the game into more of transition affair by outscoring Pine Bluff. Lady Bulldogs junior college transfer forward Ashley Brown got her first career double-double with 12 points and 15 rebounds in 30 minutes.
“We have to get out and run as well as execute in a halfcourt game,” Fanning-Otis said. “We got to get to the ball quicker and break people down a little earlier in the shot clock.”
The only sour note to this 43-point victory was the injury that took starting guard Portia Porter out of the game with a severe ankle sprain after driving the baseline. The training staff along with Fanning-Otis had to help the transfer from Chicago off the floor and her status is uncertain for host Louisiana Tech for a 7 p.m. Wednesday tip.
Porter’s injury provided an opportunity to freshman point guard Katia May to force five steals and provide seven points on the offensive end in 26 minutes.
“I think I did better than usual,” May said after the game. “I calmed down a little bit. Coach wants me to push it but different situations call for me to slow down and pull it up.”
The blowout victory gave Fanning-Otis and the MSU coaching staff a chance to play a lot of new players including former State volleyball player Ashley Newsome as the senior, playing in her first ever college basketball game, pulled down a rebound and had a steal in 4 minutes of action.